When communities fall on hard economic times, they tend to grow increasingly neglected. After all, what real estate investor wants to pump money into a depressed neighborhood? It's this very issue that prompted the creation of opportunity zones. IRS opportunity zones are those designated as economically distressed. Investors who put money into opportunity zones get to reap tax benefits in exchange for putting capital into areas that need it. Everybody wins.
Cities across the United States face a host of challenges: job creation, building scalable enterprises, affordable housing, sustainability in the age of climate change, equity and inclusion. These priorities are as diverse as they are entangled. No single individual - not the most brilliant inventor or revolutionary leader - can tackle any of these challenges alone. To make meaningful progress, we must collaborate on cross-institutional and cross-interest solutions.
Opportunity Zone funding is a federal program created to drive economic development in “distressed” areas across the United States, including in DC. The program has been received with both criticism and excitement, but something’s been missing from the conversation: The potential to use this money for clean energy and green infrastructure projects that benefit both the planet and the people living in these communities.
Investors have been chomping at the bit ever since the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act launched the Opportunity Zone (OZ) program, designed to bring capital to low-income communities by providing tax benefits to investors. What we are quickly seeing is that capital dropped in a community is not the same as capital designated for community benefit.
"It was confusion and a slow rollout that has made it so that funds haven't met their fundraising goal expectations," Hayden said. Now, investors expect a turnaround in the second half of 2019. The most recent data from research company Reonomy show a dwindling share of investments going to the country's 8,700 OZs, but those numbers only go up to March, or just before the Treasury Department's second round of guidelines were released.
"Opportunity Zones are among the poorest areas of the country, with some of the lowest home prices. This should come as no surprise because the zones are designed to be in or alongside economically distressed neighborhoods," said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM Data Solutions. "But the differences between these and other areas in most parts of the nation are stark. The numbers provide key benchmarks for how much room there is for these areas to grow and how much new investment they need."
Drexel’s Metro Finance Lab director on how innovative Opportunity Zone leadership can bridge the divide between the haves and have-nots.
Many consumers no longer make decisions solely based on the product or service they are receiving, but also consider the principles and values of the organizations they are engaging. Companies are now more emboldened than ever to align themselves with social issues, promote partnerships with charities and herald their sustainability practices to differentiate themselves from the competition. While an emphasis on social responsibility is influencing how consumers want to spend their money, it’s also impacting where they invest their money.
In terms of the Midwest, the results of the OZ program have been mixed. In Cleveland, Realogy reports that the city has 14% of its commercial assets in Opportunity Zones, above the national average. Investment share in Opportunity Zones was decreasing until 2018, where it leveled off, leading to a slight increase in the first quarter of this year.
Market watchers are predicting $200 to $300 billion in investment in the nation’s 8,700-plus OZones. And federal rules have made it clear that green economy projects -- such as local power generation, microgrids, EV charging stations and energy storage -- are eligible for OZone investment.